Review: The Walking Dead: The Final Season

After four seasons across seven years and two development studios, Clementine’s story has come to an end with The Walking Dead: The Final Season. This marks Telltale’s final game, with the studio closing after Episode 2.

I’m happy to report it’s easily their best technical work, making huge strides with engine performance and their storytelling harkens back to when they were winning numerous Game of the Year awards for Season 1.

Days Gone By

Once the child under Lee’s protection in Season 1, Clementine has been both a protagonist in Season 2 and ancillary character A New Dawn. She now finds herself a teen who has been forced to grow up too fast. In her role as the lead character in this Final Season her path somewhat mirrors the dilemma Lee faced in Season 1.

Clem is the guardian of AJ, born in Season 2 and now about five years old. He never knew of life before the complete collapse of society, and values personal survival above all else. The circumstances of his upbringing puts him at odds with other characters who have lived in stable communities. In short, AJ is hardened and has a difficult time playing nice with others.

Lines We Cross

My decisions shaped the kind of person AJ became. There are scenarios that are only determined indirectly via the lessons I instilled upon AJ, like “always aim for the head.” This did a good job reminding me of children in my life and what they may be picking up on just from being around me. The bond between Clem and AJ is at the heart of this season and is consistently strong.

I was pleasantly surprised by at least one big plot twist in each of the four episodes. People die suddenly, characters are hiding dark secrets, and unexpected reunions are on the table. These are the kind of things a fan will really appreciate, but would lose considerable weight if, for some reason, this was somebody’s first time with the series.

The bulk of the story takes place at a school for troubled youth, and Clem, now about 17, becomes the de facto leader of other kids. This makes a lot more sense than when she was effectively calling the shots amongst a group of adults while she was 11 years old, which was hard to believe. Contrasting her with peers made it easier to empathize with their situation. They have a sort of “Lord of the Flies” thing going on which makes for an interesting dynamic.

Upon Clem’s arrival, Marlon is running the show. He looks like Kiefer Sutherland in “The Lost Boys” and seems to be a good and fair leader, but is quickly exposed as somebody who has lost any sort of real control. Even when I found out who Marlon really was, I could feel his guilt over decisions he had to make to ensure his group’s survival.

Clem gets a full story arc with real closure, no cop out open ending sequel setup. New characters were fleshed out just enough for me to either like them or learn to hate them. Only a couple were “red shirts,” like “Star Trek” characters whose sole purpose to be killed. Most, like Marlon, were fleshed out and gave me a good idea of the kind of person they were. I favored interactions with Violet, a not-a-people-person loner, over Louis, the goofy pianist who just wanted to have fun and be a ninja. I never felt like Louis’ personality was a realistic response to a crumbling world where the undead are trying to eat you. Violet and Louis represent one of the major diverging points in how the story plays out, and you might prefer having a wisecracking sidekick at your side.

There are a couple of major plot holes in the final chapter that will be hard to overlook for some. I was satisfied with the ending, so I am able to get past them while acknowledging their existence. Some major universe rules are seemingly tossed aside in order to get to the ending point Skybound wanted. The last half hour of this put me through several stages of grief, but ultimately I got an ending I was happy with.

Made to Suffer

Telltale’s engine has been derided for years, and it is largely the same as last go around. For the uninitiated, this is a modernized take on old click and point adventure games like “Maniac Mansion.” The game engine powering Telltale’s stories has often performed sluggishly, with choppy framerates, crashes, and sometimes extreme graphical glitches. The Walking Dead’s Final Season, however, showed none of that. It performed admirably, and how I wish it had worked in all of their past series.

Expanding upon combat elements found in Telltale’s “Minecraft Story Mode” series, this season of Walking Dead gave me more freedom of movement in combat. Whereas Minecraft Story Mode introduced a clunky lock-on system that was technically action combat instead of a quick time events, Walking Dead gave me the freedom to stun or kill walkers, activate traps, and use a bow and arrow. And this is all done without any lock-on mechanic. An early encounter had me running around impaling walkers with swinging logs and dropping boulders on others. You could just use my knife, but where’s the fun in that? You can’t give me the ability to “Home Alone” a bunch of zombies and expect me not do it.

The stun system is useful for crowd control. You don’t always have time to kill one zombie without another one taking a bite of you. That would be a serious problem, so instead I might kick a knee out from underneath one and back off to regain space. By slowing them down and spreading out kills, I could safely escape harrowing circumstances.

Bow and arrow segments give you a ranged option, but I’m still playing in a very small sandbox. Still, the kick the knee, knife the head combo was always in my arsenal. How I actually clear the walkers is up to me, and is a small way I can change things up in a second playthrough.

What Comes After

After Episode 2 was released, Telltale closed its doors. Skybound, the company behind the comics, picked up the pieces and finished Clem’s story. The final episode clocked in much shorter than the others, while also having the task of tying a bow on four seasons of character development. I suspect most of the work was already finished on Episode 3 before Telltale closed its doors, making the final episode the first one completely controlled by Skybound’s crew. Characters are suddenly able to do things that simply don’t make sense in The Walking Dead’s world, just to quickly wrap up storylines that could use more time to breathe. I felt Episode 4 should have been almost twice as long, but appreciate Skybound ensuring that we got a conclusion to this story.

The Walking Dead: The Final Season was reviewed on PS4 Pro using a review copy provided by Skybound Games.

Publisher
Telltale Games and Skybound Games
Developer
Telltale Games and Skybound Games
Reviewed On
PlayStation 4
Release Date
March 26, 2019